When you’re a professional wrestler who spends most of their life on the road surrounded by other professional wrestlers, it’s natural that you’re going to make some friends in the business. It’s lonely enough spending so much time away from home without finding a way to turn your fellow wrestlers into best friends. In fact, there have been many instances throughout the years of professional wrestlers that were feuding on-screen and partying in the back. Some wrestlers even swear that having a close personal friendship with their opponents allows them to have the best feuds possible.
Sometimes, though, friendships in the wrestling industry begin well before the tours start. On a few occasions, wrestlers have actually known each other before they even knew for certain that they wanted to be professional wrestlers. While the career paths of these performers may have taken them in vastly different directions, they were always able to look back on those days before the bright lights and big shows when they were just a couple of friends wondering what life would bring. It doesn’t happen often, but these are the 15 wrestlers who knew each other before getting into the business. You'll also learn some cool 'how they met' stories.
15 Haku and The Barbarian Were Both Sent to Japan by the King of Tonga to Learn Sumo
Many of you likely know Tonga Fifita as either Meng, Haku, or simply the toughest wrestler that has ever stepped into a wrestling ring. What some of you may not know is that before Fifita earned his reputation as a world-class tough guy, he was a boy growing up on the island of Tonga. Yup, just a boy who was sent to Japan by the King of Tonga to learn how to become a Sumo wrestler. Yes, as strange as it may sound, Fifita got his start in the business as part of a royal decree. Joining him on this incredible trip was the man known that would later become known as The Barbarian, Sione Havea Vailahi. It’s not known how close the two were during this time, but both achieved a respectable level of success as Sumo wrestlers.
14 Road Warrior Hawk and Animal Worked as Club Bouncers Together
The professional wrestling business used to be a very different world than it is now. Once upon a time, promoters sought stars from all walks of life. They were particularly interested in blue-collar types who had a good build or a unique look to go along with a desire to escape the doldrums of their day jobs. Bouncers were usually one of the best sources for potential pro wrestlers, which is how Road Warrior Hawk and Animal came into the wrestling business.
It’s not entirely clear when Joseph Laurinaitis and Michael Hegstrand met each other, but at some point, the two became friends while living in Chicago and eventually worked together as very effective bouncers at a place called Grandma B’s. Wrestling trainer Eddie Sharkey spotted them there one day, and the rest is history.
13 Shinsuke Nakamura and Bryan Danielson were Roommates with Lyoto Machida
Technically, this one is a bit of a cheat given that everyone involved was on their way to becoming a wrestler at that point, but given that this is a crazy story that involves people who were not big name wrestlers at the time, we’ll throw it in anyway. Back in the early 2000s, a new generation of wrestlers were making a name for themselves in the indies while a new generation of MMA stars were starting to train. One of the hubs for all this talent was the Inoki Dojo in Santa Monica, California. While training at this dojo, Bryan Danielson, Shinsuke Nakamura, and Lyoto Machida decided to become roommates.
How did this odd pairing of future stars get along? Pretty well, apparently, except that Nakamura and Machida had a professional rivalry and Danielson couldn’t convince Nakamura to eat donuts.
12 Olympic Weightlifter Ken Patera Met Ric Flair While Flair was a Bouncer
Ask 100 wrestling fans whether Ken Patera or Ric Flair had a more successful professional wrestling career, and 100 people answer Ric Flair. However, there was a point when it looked like Ken Patera was going to be the star and Flair would be forgotten. Patera spent his early years as an Olympic weightlifter who took home gold at the 1971 Pan American Games. Ric Flair was a lifeguard, college dropout, and bouncer. While working as a bouncer, Ric Flair happened to meet Ken Patera, and the two struck up a friendship. In fact, it was Patera who convinced Flair that he should join him at Verne Gange’s wrestling school. Even during training, Patera was considered to be the future star. It wasn’t until later that he became arguably the greatest professional wrestler ever while Patera fizzled out.
11 Lex Luger and Ron Simmons Played in the USFL Together
While bouncers and laborers were pretty bountiful sources of future professional wrestlers back in the day, some long-time athletes did eventually become wrestlers too. As you might imagine, one of the most sports among future professional wrestlers was football. Thousands of incredible athletes joined the college football ranks, but as only a few could ever make it to the NFL, those who did not were often left to pursue other paths. For instance, when Lex Luger was kicked off the Miami Hurricanes, he eventually joined the USFL as a member of the Tampa Bay Bandits.
While there, he played with a man by the name of Ron Simmons who had just had a failed stint with the Cleveland Browns. The two got into the wrestling business around the same time after that and eventually became in-ring rivals.
10 Edge and Christian Were Best Friends For Most of Their Lives
Sometimes, destiny just smiles on the world and the right people happen to be in the right place at the right time. Such was the case when Adam Copeland and Jay Reso met in the town of Orangeville, Ontario when they were only kids. Copeland called Orangeville his home since the time he was born. He spent much of his time in the town following professional wrestling. Reso shared that love of professional wrestling which is why the two were so quick to become friends when Reso moved to Orangeville at a young age.
Copeland and Reso trained together, broke into the industry together, teamed together, and eventually made it to the biggest professional wrestling organization in the world together. They’re a rare instance of childhood fans becoming all-time great wrestlers.
9 Shelton Benjamin Was Brock Lesnar’s Assistant Coach and Roommate in College
Along with bouncers and football players, are people who actually trained to be wrestlers from a young age. Shelton Benjamin, for instance, began wrestling as a sophomore in high school where he eventually achieved a 122-10 career record. Around that same time, Brock Lesnar was learning to wrestle in South Dakota. He too did very well for himself – he placed third in the state championship – and eventually found his way to the University of Minnesota after receiving a wrestling scholarship. While there, he ended up striking a friendship with assistant coach Shelton Benjamin who had also transferred to the university not long before Lesnar arrived. The two ended up rooming together and eventually joined Ohio Valley Wrestling together as the Minnesota Stretching Crew tag team.
8 Brutus Beefcake and Hulk Hogan Were So Close, Many People Believed They Were Brothers
Anyone who still believes that it’s what you know and not who you know has clearly never heard the career story of Ed Leslie. It’s not entirely clear how Ed Leslie and Terry “Hulk Hogan” Bollea first met, but what we do know is that the two were already very close by the time that they both started to get their first jobs as professional wrestlers. In fact, they were initially booked as brothers in their first territories. Many believed that they actually were brothers due to their similar looks, interests, and attitudes, but Leslie and Bollea just happened to be very good friends. Well, if you believe Hulk Hogan’s ex-wife, they were more than just good friends, but we can say for sure that their friendship kept Leslie employed for many years.
7 Chyna, Triple H, and Perry Saturn All Joined the Same Wrestling School Together
It’s always strange hearing about famous people’s paths crossing at a young age. That’s especially true when said famous people end up having a complicated relationship. Such was the case when Triple H, Perry Saturn, and Chyna all entered Killer Kowalski’s wrestling school at around the same time. While many know that Chyna and Triple H would go on to join WWE and have a real-life relationship, few might know that Triple H and Perry Saturn actually formed an early friendship and well-respected tag team.
When did everyone’s paths divide? Well, Chyna was booked in outside territories fairly early on, while Saturn and Triple H were both eventually identified as singles stars. Still, it’s strange that WWE never played off of their early friendship while all three were in WWE.
6 Jerry Lawler and Jimmy Hart Were High School Friends and Bandmates
While many professional wrestlers found their way into the business because they really couldn’t have been anything else, some actually chose the life over other possible career options. For instance, both Jerry Lawler and Jimmy Hart shared a love for music during their time in school together. While Lawler would later describe himself as a fan of Hart’s music, it was Jerry who ended up eventually getting a record deal. As he was passing through their old town, Lawler decided to give Hart a call to see if he would be interested in singing backup on the album. The two rekindled their friendship while working on the album which eventually led to Lawler helping Hart get his first gigs in the wrestling business. Given the quality of their singing, we think they both made the right choice.
5 Xavier Woods and Cody Rhodes Were High School Rivals
While, "friends" might be a bit of a stretch in this instance, but these two certainly knew each other. Both Xavier Woods and Cody Rhodes were amateur wrestling standouts during high school. In another life, they might have been best friends. Unfortunately, the two happened to go to rival schools. Their paths eventually crossed when Rhodes beat Woods during a major rivalry match. According to Woods, he later met Rhodes at a bowling alley when he found out that a girl he had a crush on was there with Rhodes.
Woods describes Rhodes as somewhat cocky during that time, but Rhodes tells it a little differently. According to him, Woods was the one who was a little arrogant and the only reason he was a little big cocky was so that he could look good in front of his girl.
4 The Nasty Boys Were Lifelong Friends
Many times, tag teams are formed out of necessity. A promoter needs a new tag team in the promotion, so he decides to put two people together who aren’t doing anything else. Sometimes, however, there are cases of real-life friends who just so happen to learn the ropes together as a team. That’s exactly what happened in the case of Jerry Sags and Brian Knobbs. Both grew up in the town of Whitehall Township, Pennsylvania and sort of “booked themselves” as a tag team early on. Interestingly, the two didn’t share the punk rock attitudes that would later make the Nasty Boys gimmick famous. While they loved to have a good time, it was actually Jerry Lawler who came up with their eventual look and attitude.
3 Ted DiBiase, Tito Santana, and Tully Blanchard Were All on the Same College Football Team
As we’ve already seen, the football fields of America have played host to many an eventual professional wrestler. It just so happens that the athleticism required to be a professional football player is similar to what is required to make it in professional wrestling. That, combined with the popularity of both sports in the south, means that many young athletes ended up as both wrestling and football fans. Even still, the fate of the West Texas State University football team is pretty miraculous. At one point, the West Texas football squad played host to Tito Santana, Ted DiBiase, and Tully Blanchard. The three played together during their college days, but, interestingly enough, found their way into wrestling careers through different paths. All would eventually meet up in the WWE Hall of Fame, however.
2 Sting and The Ultimate Warrior Were Two Bodybuilders that Decided to Become Professional Wrestlers
Neither Steve Borden or Jim Hellwig really grew up wanting to become professional wrestlers. Instead, they were much more interested in the world of professional bodybuilding. The trouble was that becoming a professional bodybuilder was even more difficult than becoming a professional wrestler. After some time training together in California, Hellwig and Borden formed a small group of bodybuilders who decided to see if they could parlay their physiques into a professional wrestling career. Borden and Hellwig knew each other a little before that, but they soon struck up a closer bond while training. In fact, there’s a story out there that the two used to pull their funds together in order to buy tuna fish and orange juice as a cheap protein mixture. While they stuck together early on in their careers, each man’s path would eventually lead them to the top of America’s two biggest wrestling companies.
1 Rick Rude and Mr. Perfect Were Best Friends In A High School Class Full of Professional Wrestlers
We’ve seen some pretty incredible instances of friends who would eventually go on to become wrestlers throughout this list, but this is certainly the most incredible of them all. Years ago, students at Robbinsdale High School in Robbinsdale, Minnesota unknowingly walked the school’s halls with an impressive collection of professional wrestling greats. Yes, Tom Zenk, Nikita Koloff, Rick Rude, Brady Boone, John Nord, Curt Hennig, and Barry Darsow all went to the same high school together. While those men would all go on to achieve various levels of success in professional wrestling, the fact that all of them went on to become somewhat notable professional wrestlers is pretty impressive.
Of the group, Rude and Henning were certainly the closest of friends. They would remain so until their respective untimely deaths.